As Biden succeeds Trump, what can migrants hope for?

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Ximena Sampson (go to author's page)

A new caravan of Honduran migrants is on its way to the United States. Encouraged by the election of Democrat Joe Biden, these 300 people hope to cross Guatemala and Mexico to finally reach the US border. But if his predecessor Donald Trump’s response was to turn migrants back at the border, Joe Biden could offer them some hope.

Who are these migrants?

For decades it was mostly Mexicans trying to get to the United States to improve their lot. But in recent years, the origin of migrants has changed.

While there are still many Mexicans among them, their proportion is declining while the number of migrants from Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala increases.

These three countries, which form what is called the Northern Triangle (or Northern Triangle), are overtaking Mexico as the main point of departure for migrants.

  • In 2000, 98% of the 1.6 million people arrested at the southern border of the United States were Mexican.
  • In 2019, Mexicans represented only 19% of those arrested.

The Mexican government maintains that this drop in emigration is linked to the good performance of its economy. Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia, is not convinced. Rather, she says border restrictions and organized crime are the cause.

It has become more expensive for Mexicans to go to the United States, she says. It’s not like it used to be when people would leave with a friend or neighbor who brought them back to the United States. Now human trafficking networks are taking care of it and are not shy about getting rid of the migrants.

Mexicans do a cost-benefit analysis and prefer to travel within their country instead.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, professor at George Mason University.

On the other hand, she notes, it is true that Mexico is not doing as badly as its neighbors in the northern triangle, devastated by chronic violence, corruption, poverty, natural disasters and subjected to the abuses of gangs. street.

Disappointed hopes

After the armed conflicts of the 1980s, a wind of hope blew through Central America, says José Miguel Cruz, research director at the Center for Latin America and the Caribbean at Florida International University.

The people of these countries thought there would be an opportunity for reconstruction and economic recovery, but their hopes were quickly cooled.

Added to this was the weakening of institutions, particularly in Honduras, where the government has been implicated in several corruption cases, and then the fact that organized crime groups, including Mexican drug cartels, have become involved. are consolidated in several areas of these countries, he explains.

A couple carrying a child walks down a flooded street where the water reaches the waist of the two adults.

Hurricanes Eta and Iota left over 200 people dead and an unknown number missing, as well as millions of dollars in damage, especially in Honduras, where 154,000 people lost their homes.

Photo: Reuters / JORGE CABRERA

In addition, the region, which has just been ravaged by two hurricanes, is particularly vulnerable to climatic disasters. In recent years, there have been droughts and then floods, which have increased the level of poverty and food insecurity for many people, notes Mr. Cruz.

The presence of criminal gangs like the MS-13, formed from former street gang members expelled from the United States in the 1990s, has fundamentally destabilized these countries. These gangs rule the law, completely replacing the government in their area of ​​influence and holding citizens to ransom.

Someone who has a small retail business has to pay a contribution to the street gangs that control the land, otherwise he and his family are threatened., argues Ms. Correa-Cabrera.

This model is based on the expansion of fear. If you don't pay, I'll kill you or I'll kill your family. For street gangs, life isn't worth much. They are ready to kill and die too.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, Professor at George Mason University

Families on the run

It is because of these threats that more and more families are migrating north, say the researchers. In recent years, their number has grown exponentially.

While in 2012, lone adults accounted for 90% of migrants arrested at the southern border of the United States, in 2019, they were down to 35%. The remaining 65% were families or unaccompanied minors.

Reflecting all migrations, families from the northern triangle have become the majority in recent years.

Many people in North Central America literally flee for their lives, as gangs target entire families, including children, said in a statement Jean Gough, regional director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for Latin America and the Caribbean. They leave no loved ones behind because they fear reprisals from gangs in the communities.

I have heard countless stories of migrants who do not leave their country because of the American dream, but rather because their situation in their own village, in Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador, is unbearable, says Mr. Cruz. Staying means facing the possibility of being murdered or starving. Under these circumstances, they have nothing to lose by migrating to the United States.

A man carries a little girl while crossing the river.

Honduran migrants in a caravan attempt to cross the border river Suchiate at Tucun Uman (Guatemala) to cross into Mexico and continue their journey to the United States.

Photo: Reuters / Adrees Latif

Even though people are aware of the anti-immigrant climate in the United States and know that the chances of success across the border have diminished, they still continue to join the trailers because their situation is dire.

José Miguel Cruz, research director at the Latin America and the Caribbean Center at Florida International University.

In fact, more and more of them are opting to apply for asylum, a practice unusual in the past.

A more human speech

The president-elect has already indicated that he will no longer invest in the construction of the Mexican border wall dear to Donald Trump, but rather in the infrastructure of detection. However, he does not plan to destroy what has already been built.

A man works to build a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico.

Only 500 kilometers of the wall promised by Donald Trump has been built.

Photo: Reuters / Jose Luis Gonzalez

He also signaled that he wanted to end restrictive asylum policies, including the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP, also known as Stay in mexico), under which asylum seekers from Central America must wait in Mexico to obtain a hearing date for their case to be reviewed.

Joe Biden also intends to prioritize the reunification of migrant children separated from their families by the policies of the Trump administration. He would also like to embark on a comprehensive reform of the immigration law with a view to granting access to citizenship to the 11 million illegal immigrants established in the country for a long time.

Two young children sit on the ground, while US border guards stand among a group of migrants.

Migrant families listen to instructions from US border guards before entering the United States via the Paso del Norte pedestrian bridge. The United States does not bring to justice migrants who cross the border through an official point of entry.

Photo: Reuters / Jose Luis Gonzalez

However, he will have to find a way to reconcile divergent interests, argues José Miguel Cruz.

The new administration will have to find a way to deal with the migrant file in a less repressive way, but without its political rivals accusing it of opening wide the borders, he says.

If the Democrats have always held a discourse less focused on the security aspect and more on the humanitarian aspect, it was above all a political strategy and, in practice, they were often very firm, recalls Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera.

Thus, Barack Obama is sometimes called "the chief deporter" for having expelled from the country 3 million undocumented migrants. However, they were above all criminals already tried, qualify some analysts.

There must be a better balance between control and protection, also believes Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

PPMs must be canceled, he says, but it must be a gradual process.

The biggest challenge for Joe Biden is sending a message that makes it clear that the United States is going to handle the situation better, but that it is not going to open the border to everyone.

Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, Washington.

Migration policy in the region has always been reactive, in response to ad hoc crises, but no real vision for long-term migration policy has ever been developed, says Ruiz Soto. In particular, he said the administration should expand the visa program that allows migrants to travel to the United States temporarily to work in certain specific sectors.

Illegal migration will never stop, but there may be ways to gradually reduce it.

Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, Washington.
Workers harvest grapes from a vineyard.

There are believed to be around 12 million undocumented workers in the United States, of which around 8 million are employed in industries such as agriculture and construction.

Photo: Associated Press / Rich Pedroncelli

The big problem when talking about illegal immigrants is the demand for labor, Ms. Correa-Barrera believes. If there was no work in the United States, people wouldn't go there, she remarks.

<q data-attributes = '{"lang": {"value": "fr", "label": "Français"}, "value": {"html": "There is a double talk on the American side: we denounce illegal immigration, but we take advantage of this cheap labor. "," text ":" There is a double discourse on the American side: we denounce illegal immigration, but we take advantage of this cheap labor. "}} 'lang =" en”>There is a double talk on the American side: we denounce illegal immigration, but we take advantage of this cheap labor.

People are desperate, this is a reality, otherwise they would not leave. But why are they going to the United States? Because they know they are going to find work.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, professor at George Mason University.

High expectations for the next president

South of the border, expectations are high. Both from the 70,000 Central American asylum seekers waiting in Mexico and from NGOs.

We are awaiting a specific proposal for Central America that focuses on strengthening states and institutions, notes Natalia Ortiz, a researcher at the Central American Institute for Social and Development Studies (INCEDES) in Guatemala City.

It is important, she believes, that the North American government be open to dialogue and to listen rather than simply imposing its conditions. The institutions of the countries concerned must be actively involved in the fight against corruption and impunity, she argues.

We are optimistic, but we know that there are many challenges and one of them is our own institutions.

Natalia Ortiz, researcher at the Central American Institute of Social and Development Studies (INCEDES).

During the Trump years, amounts of US development assistance were directly linked to the performance of states in restraining migrants. However, this did not work as expected, says Ariel Ruiz Soto. <q data-attributes = '{"lang": {"value": "fr", "label": "Français"}, "value": {"html": "Que Mexico puts immigration officers at the border with Guatemala, that does not solve the problem or the causes for which people leave their country "," text ":" That Mexico put immigration officers at the border with Guatemala, that does not solve the problem nor the reasons why people leave their country "}} 'lang =" en”>That Mexico puts immigration officers at the border with Guatemala does not solve the problem or the causes why people leave their country, he emphasizes.

A man chased by men in uniform

The Mexican government has tightened security at its southern border and is trying to prevent the passage of migrants

Photo: Getty Images / ISAAC GUZMAN

The Republican administration has also signed new agreements with the governments of the northern triangle countries under which those states are considered safe third countries for people fleeing persecution in their home countries.

They were forced to do so, says José Miguel Cruz, in exchange for obtaining American aid. It makes no sense that a country like Honduras is considered safe for migrants from other countries when it cannot even guarantee the safety of its own citizens.

What we should try to do, according to Natalia Ortiz, is to find solutions on a regional scale.

Our region shares a story, she notes. There are already regional platforms from which dialogue and collaboration with the United States could take place.

Structural problems such as the fight against drug traffickers and organized crime require a coordinated response at regional and global level.

Natalia Ortiz, researcher at the Central American Institute of Social and Development Studies (INCEDES)

This is also the opinion of Ariel Ruiz Soto. Migration is a regional problem that requires regional solutions, he says. President Biden's challenge will be to work with the governments of the countries of the Northern Triangle to control migration levels and to improve their ability to help migrants crossing their territory.

There is also a need, says Ruiz Soto, for other countries, like Canada, to do their part when it comes to asylum seekers.

In 2019, Canada received 938 asylum applications from people from the northern triangle, while the United States received 132,787.

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